Rupert Hohwieler 05/03/23
Gig goers in London have a lot to shout about.
The capital cranks out live music every night of week, and in some pretty extraordinary venues too: there are the vast multi-purpose arenas where best-selling artists belt out chart toppers to thousands, the intimate neighbourhood pubs that lend their support to local grass-roots bands, the iconic old-world jazz clubs, and the quirky cult classics that have somehow survived numerous closures.
So here, we’ve taken the pleasure in tracking down the best live music venues in London, so you can sing, dance, mosh and maybe even crowd surf to the tune of all your favourite bands…
The 02 Academy Brixton
Also known as the Brixton Academy, this domed-auditorium started out in life as a cinema before switching from screens to sounds in the early 1980s. You could say it’s been a bit busy since: welcoming in virtually every artist or band of repute, from top hip hop talent old and new to electronic heavy hitters and rock royalty (like The Smiths’ last ever show). The sloping standing section that gives way to prime sightlines and its ability to harness the big-time aura of an arena with the close-knit chaos of a club, make it one of the best live music venues in London.
Details: 211 Stockwell Road, SW9 9SL | Capacity 5,000 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
The O2 Arena
This unmissable Greenwich landmark is the spiritual home of the capital’s super shows. It’s where the Beyonces and Biebers of the biz jet in for the London legs of their world tours – playing all their top 40 mega hits to the masses (a capacity of 20k; the second highest in the UK). The venue itself is like a large village with bowling, a cinema, bars and restaurants all in the vicinity for the pre-show entertainment.
Details: Peninsula Square, SE10 0DX | Capacity 20,000 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Like fellow 02er the Brixton Academy, The Empire wasn’t initially put on the planet to be a live music venue: it initially served as the BBC Television Theatre before transitioning into a force of sound in 1995. The change in direction seems to have worked out okay as it’s gone on to become one of the best live music venues in London, hosting all walks of musical life from The Rolling Stones to Professor Green. Its two seated balcony levels also provide a low-key space to observe the stage from when you don’t fancy making friends with the moshers in the pit below.
Details: Shepherd’s Bush Green, W12 8TT | Capacity 2,000 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
Alexandra Palace (aka the Ally Pally) is a little old, lovingly so, and a wee bit worn down (no thanks to two fires and two world wars) but still musters the energy to put on mammoth music shows that reverberate around its hilltop setting. The gigs you get in the great hall here are something of a mixed bag in terms of genres (see this year’s post-autumn schedule: jumping from Franz Ferdinand to Aitch and Moderat), but they always make for a memorable head-pounding occasion even if you don’t actually remember much of it the next day.
Details: Alexandra Palace Way, N22 7AY | Capacity 10,000 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
02 Forum Kentish Town
The Forum is another on this list that’s been through something of an identity crisis: serving as a cinema, Irish dance hall, bingo hall and regular dance hall at different points in time. It was given a tidy up in 2007 and had its capacity bumped up to 2,300. Since settling on live music venue it hasn’t been a stranger to the odd superstar act, with Lenny Kravitz, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine and the Gorillaz all raising its art deco roof.
Details: 9-17 Highgate Road, Kentish Town, NW5 1JY | Capacity 2,300 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
Gigs at the Roundhouse, well… they tend to be off the rails. A former train engine repair shed, this circular-shaped Chalk Farm structure has earned legend status for its ear-piercing rock ‘n’ roll concerts in the ‘60s and ‘70s (notably hosting one of The Doors only two UK showings with Jim Morrison). The range of events today is more, um, well-rounded with indie acts, breakthrough producers, master poets and even acrobats all sharing space on the schedule.
Details: Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8EH | Capacity 3,300 standing; 1,700 seated | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
Eventim Apollo Hammersmith
Thanks to its upbringing as an art deco picture house, The Hammersmith Apollo (as it’s still referred to by its diehard fans) is pretty easy on the eyes, and it’s pretty easy on the ears too. Every major act or artist worth their salt has played here before (from Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen to Kylie Minogue and Kanye West… you get the picture) and it caters to both the calm and crazy crowds with an upper balcony area and adequate room for jumping about and acting like a loose cannon down in the stalls.
Details: 45 Queen Caroline Street, London W6 9QH | Capacity 5,039 (standing); 3,632 (sitting) | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
For those with enough mileage in the tank, you’ll probably better know the Camden Assembly as Barfly. It used to be a den of great dinge where London’s grungiest would hang out and get up to mischief with the latest indie and Britpop favourites. Following a facelift in 2016 where it took on new management, its shabby down-to-earth spirit stuck around and the music policy continues to have a penchant for picking out the most exciting emerging bands and rappers in the country.
Details: 49 Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, NW1 8AN | Capacity 400 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
The rowdy back room of this Dalston pub has been a second home for many up and coming foreign bands looking to forge a name for themselves on our shores (this is where Aussie synth-prog rockers King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard tore the house down on their English debut). The sound set up is solid enough (it’s still just a pub remember) and that pub part also comes in handy for when you want to risk nursing a beer while shouting your lungs off to whoever’s up on the stage.
Details: 71 Shacklewell Lane, Dalston, E8 2EB | Capacity 250 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
The Old Blue Last
You haven’t done this Shoreditch sweatbox right if you’re not looking like a shell of a human being by the time the sun comes up. It’s a launchpad for young acts on the cusp of catching fire and has also hosted loads of household names for fleeting visits (think Diplo, Lily Allen and Florence and the Machine). There’s something worth attending on every night of the week and it’s relentlessly dynamic and up-to-date in its booking strategy.
Details: 38 Great Eastern Street, EC2A 3ES | Capacity 150 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
If you’ve had enough of the sound of your own voice for one day, head over to Ronnie Scott’s. You’re not allowed to talk while music’s on here as it famously demands complete silence during its performances. It has a global reputation of being the absolute pinnacle for a session of smooth jazz (call-ins from genre greats are also very common) and the late, late shows that jam on long into the night are the stuff of legend.
Details: 47 Frith Street, W1D 4HT | You can find out more, see the lineup of shows, and book a ticket at their website right HERE
Servant Jazz Quarters
Despite its name, this intimate live music lair in Dalston is no one trick pony. Indie, soul, blues, funk, and even country all join jazz in drifting through the airwaves here and though it may seem subdued on the surface (there’s a very datey cocktail bar upstairs) the dance floor has the potential to heave when there’s a local Hackney hot shot on the bill.
Details: 10A Bradbury Street, Dalston, N16 8JN | You can find out more, and book any upcoming shows at their website right HERE
Dalston Jazz Bar
Dalston Jazz Bar does what it says on the tin – it’s a jazz bar in Dalston. The interior is a little rough around the edges (don’t expect any plush velvet booths) but it has a homely feel to it… if your living room was the site for mad saxophone solos and impromptu dance-offs. Once jazz hour is up, the venue’s chef steps in to reveal he lives a double life as a DJ and drops anything from pop to reggae until it’s last man or woman standing. Fortunately they move the furniture out of the way for that…
Details: 4 Bradbury Street, N16 8JN | You can book a table HERE
Brilliant Corners is for people serious about their sound: the ones whose heart flutter at the sight of state-of-the-art audio gear (like the massive set of Klipschorn speakers they have here). Its resolute dedication to vinyl and flawless noise levels makes it one of the best live venues in London for actually appreciating the acoustics and you can also appreciate quality food too, as the restaurant side of the space does Japanese izakaya-style stuff like chicken karaage and tempura.
Details: 470 Kingsland Road, E8 4AE | You can find out more, and make a booking at their website right HERE
A stone’s throw from Brilliant Corners, and incidentally from the same people, is Mu. It’s got the same vibey Japanese izakaya, natural wine and quality sound specs thing going on, just with more of a push from vinyl DJ sets to live band performances (which take place every night of the week; one at 7.30pm, the other at 9pm). What’s on is always a diverse selection, ranging from percussion and kora ensembles to a London-based marimba band and Romani gypsy music from Serbia – but the best part is that there’s no stage, so the musicians strut their stuff within metres from you.
Details: 434 Kingsland Road, E8 4AA | You can find out more, see their listings, and make a booking at their website right HERE
The Jazz Café
One of most seasoned live music venues in London, Camden’s house of funk and soul has been instigating bleary-eyed nights for over 30 years now. Many famous jazz faces have lent their vocals to the cause here – including Adele, Amy Winehouse and Don Cherry – and since its spruce up in 2016 (when it came under new management), disco and electronica entered the fray for the more clubby-orientated weekend programming.
Details: 5 Parkway, NW1 7PG | For the full list of all their shows, or to book tickets, visit their website HERE
A short stroll from Chalk Farm station, Camden Club doesn’t do nights off: luring in keen listeners for jazz, rock and blues concerts on every evening of the week. It’s one of the newer live music venues in London and has hit all the right notes since joining the scene with its strong commitment to booking the brightest young musical studs on the block (if that’s you, requests to play can be made here).
Details: 72 Chalk Farm Rd, London NW1 8AP | For the full list of all their shows, or to book tickets, visit their website HERE
Blue Basement at Third Man Records
Founded by Jack White, singer & lead guitarist of The White Stripes (and many other bands), Third Man Records is the eye-catching, yellow-fronted record store just off Carnaby Street. What you don’t see from the outside, however, is the live music venue in the downstairs basement, designed by White himself. Dig through the collection of rare and limited-edition vinyls, and then drop down for intimate show from local and international artists (who are in arm’s length when they perform). It feels half way between the pure sound of a recording studio and the energy of a live stage, with the audio system one of the best for small venues of this ilk in London.
Details: 1 Marshall St, Carnaby, London W1F 9BA | Capacity 65 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website here
Playing at The Garage is seen as an initiation before the big leagues for most indie and rock bands. Have a skim of their calendar now and you can assume at least a couple of the names on there will be fronting major festivals in a few years. It’s one of the smaller live music venues in London (capacity is limited to 650), so if you’re short in stature you’ll have to get used to your neighbours armpits, and the club upstairs – with disco balls hanging from the ceilings – is even more cosy (in that sense), squeezing 100 bodies in at a literal push and a shove.
Details: 20-22 Highbury Cres, N5 1RD | Capacity 650 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
The old-school Shepherd’s Bush venue that is Bush Hall, with its chandeliers and classical period features, may be old in years (it first opened in 1904), but it’s still very much young at heart – playing host not just to live music, but also theatre, talks, comedy and cabaret. It’s brimming with character and although it’s not the biggest – far from it – this only means that you can get extra close to whoever’s performing up on stage (normally indie bands or emerging grassroots talent).
Details: 310 Uxbridge Rd, W12 7LJ | Capacity 425 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
It’s not always the best idea to rock the boat, but at Tamesis Dock – a 1930’s converted Dutch barge/pub/live music venue that hosts international acts (Bastille once played here), local bands, blues, jazz and, well, pretty much everything and anything on its bottom deck – you can probably get away with it…
Details: Albert Embankment, SE1 7TP | Capacity 150 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
Situated right by Kings Cross, Scala is another former movie theatre on the list that discovered its floor was really made for dancing. It’s survived a few scares over the years (almost being forced to shutdown after Stanley Kubrick sued it for illegally showing A Clockwork Orange) but its always come out on the other side to tell the tale: Iggy and Stooges only ever UK concert back in the summer of ‘72 set the tone for it’s renegade reputation, where you’ll now chance across anything from wild club nights to intimate shows from coveted new bands spread across it’s generously-sized four-level layout.
Details: 275 Pentonville Road, N1 9NL | Capacity 1,145 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
Housed within an interconnecting set of railway arches in London Bridge, Omeara was created by Mumford & Sons’ keyboard player Ben Lovett. Regardless of how you feel about his band’s music, there’s no denying he’s got good taste in live music venues (he also owns Goods Way). Step into a vault of peeling plaster walls and faded gilding where – despite the derelict surroundings – the production levels and sound specs are state-of-the-art; bringing out the best in a deeply varied programme that jumps from legends like The Pretenders to up-and-coming artists playing everything from acoustic guitar to gypsy folk.
Details: 6 O’Meara Street, SE1 1TE | Capacity 320 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
A glistening gold ceiling, sparkling curtains and sell-out glitter-soaked shows from obscure indie outfits and the coolest underground acts: that’s what happens when a group of hip Hackney creatives get their hands on an ex-service club. It may look a little old-school (and smell it too), but the music you get here is always for the future and under-the-radar bookings like the 2021 triple-threat between Four Tet, Jamie xx and Scrillex put Moth Club right up there in the pecking order with the best live music venues in London.
Details: Old Trades Hall, Valette Street, E9 6NU | Capacity 400 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
You’d once have called this art deco delight in Dalston the Savoy Cinema, but it’s now an avant-garde live music venue with a tricksy name (EartH really stands for Evolutionary arts Hackney). There’s two spaces to get your fill of forward-thinking music (EartH Hall and EartH Theatre) and one to get your fill of pre-drinks and Israeli-inspired food (EartH Kitchen). Innovation and ‘the highest quality artistic pursuit’ are the big priority on the programming (Hot Chip, Johnny Marr, Foals and fast rising star Joy Crooks for a sampler) and with that they’ve also pledged towards a 50/50 gender split going into this year.
Details: 11-17 Stoke Newington Rd, Dalston, N16 8BH | Capacity 680 (EartH Theatre); 1,200 (EartH Hall) | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
The Chapel has gained a faithful following for its fantastic acoustics (the high-ceilings really ramp up the noise levels) and its absorbing gothic architecture (its a grade I-listed church with stained-glass windows, a 140-year-old organ and a soaring dome). In the early ‘80s it was on the verge of extinction before being reborn as a live music and entertainment venue, and thank heavens it did as we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing rare sights like the Gallagher brothers playing acoustic gigs in a church as a result.
Details: 19b Compton Terrace, N1 2UN | Capacity 400 | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
Islington Assembly Hall
Reopened with renewed vigour in 2010 after a lengthy 30-year hiatus, the Islington Assembly Hall has got the whole package when it comes to mid-sized music venues: located in a lively part of town, roomy enough so that you won’t get elbowed in the face (a balcony helps with that too) and not half bad to look at either with it’s art deco design. The place is just as popular with performers as it the punters, and its pull has attracted the likes of Floating Points, The Foo Fighters, Fall Out Boy and Skepta over the years.
Details: Town Hall Upper Street, Canonbury N1 2UD | Capacity 690 (standing); 200 (balcony) | You can find out what’s coming up, and book, on their website HERE
You’ll be hard pressed to find any night owl here that doesn’t have some scarcely believable story to tell about a time they lost their dignity at this Camden institution. A former 19th century theatre with a spellbinding four-floored balconied set up, KOKO finally made its long-awaited comeback in April with a 70 million pound makeover – the signature mega mirrorball still intact – and quickly picked up where it left off as one the best live music venues in London, hosting Arcade Fire on its return night and a constant stream of world-class electronic programming which has seen Chase and Status, Honey Dijon and Mike Skinner all wreak havoc on its historic dancefloor.
Details: 1A Camden High Street, NW1 7JE | Capacity 1,141 | You can find out more, and get tickets to their live shows at their website right HERE
So the show’s over, but the night is not? Check out our ultimate guide to clubs in London if you want to keep dancing to the break of drawn.
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